WVU football and Texas Tech enter their Nov. 9 matchup at Milan Puskar Stadium in similar positions.
Both teams have struggled mightily in certain areas this season, both are riding losing streaks, but at 3-5 overall, it’s not too late for either team to win its way to bowl eligibility.
“A game between two teams who are really hungry to win,” said WVU head coach Neal Brown.
Improving on defense
West Virginia’s offensive struggles have been well-documented this season — the Mountaineers are dead last in the Big 12 in scoring offense, total offense and rushing offense. The struggles for Texas Tech, though, have come on the opposite side of the ball.
The Red Raiders are playing better defense this season than they have in the past. They’re giving up just under 30 points per game, marking a noticeable improvement from last season (31.1 ppg) and setting them on pace for their best season in that statistic in a decade.
Still, the Red Raiders rank seventh or worse in the Big 12 in every major team defensive stat, including opponent points per game.
“They’ve played very well early in games, especially in the first quarter,” Brown said.
Texas Tech does sport a pair of stars on that side of the ball. Senior defensive back Douglas Coleman III leads the nation in interceptions this season with seven — two more than anyone else in the FBS — while Brown labeled senior linebacker Jordan Brooks “as good as anybody in our league” at that position.
Texas Tech is also tied for first in the conference in turnover margin at plus-five.
Texas Tech “Tempo”
While the Red Raiders have shown some improvement on defense this season, offense continues to be their strong suit.
Even though their scoring average is down from a season ago, Brown said they play with a lot of “tempo” and can be hard to slow down.
“I think they have one of the top offensive lines in our conference,” Brown said. “A lot of experience.”
Junior Jett Duffey is expected to start at quarterback for the Red Raiders. He nearly led TTU to a come-from-behind victory against the Mountaineers last season in Lubbock, entering the game for an injured Alan Bowman and nearly eliminating a 25-point deficit.
Duffey threw for 172 yards, netted another 86 yards on the ground and recorded two scores in that game, but he also threw two costly interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown by WVU cornerback Keith Washington — the play that ultimately secured a Mountaineer victory.
Bowman, now a sophomore, is hurt again, but earlier this week, Texas Tech head coach Matt Wells indicated that he may be close to returning, and that fans shouldn’t “assume anything” about his status.
A year ago, the Mountaineers were nearly burned after they didn’t prepare for both quarterbacks. That won’t happen again, according to Brown.
“We’ve got to prepare for Bowman, too,” Brown said. “It’s my understanding that he’s making some progress. Wouldn’t be surprised if we see him.”
For the second week in a row, WVU will face a team coming off an open week.
Both the Mountaineers and Baylor had open weekends before their Oct. 31 meeting in Waco, a game in which the Bears appeared rusty, but ultimately won, 17-14.
The Mountaineers should not expect bye-week rust on a Matt Wells-led outfit: TTU’s new head coach has won seven of his last eight contests following idle weeks, with the lone loss coming to Oklahoma earlier this season.
Wells thinks his team is refreshed following that idle week, which comes in the midst of a three-game losing streak.
“There’s a little bit of a renewed energy for this stretch run,” Wells said. “You’ve got four games left. Our guys know this is a competitive league, and a lot of games on Saturdays, especially the ones lately, have come down to the wire. We need to find a way to win one, to finish one. I think they’re very well aware of that.”
While both teams have endured a fair bit of disappointment in 2019, their head coaches each understand that winning down the stretch could change the landscape of the season.
“It’s the first game of November,” Brown said. “I think all teams are judged and kind of remembered for how they finish, so this is our opportunity.”